For the last missive of 2012, here are some end-of-the-year observations from my vantage point/neck of the woods that make the approaching fiscal cliff seem like a Disneyland ride.
At a recent meeting of black notables at a lovely residence in Windsor Hills, after dispensing with a the usual roundup of who was running for which elected office, talk turned to what everybody was "working on" to improve their own station and the state of blacks in the city. In other words, what was everybody's source of hope for the coming year? Most of the answers given were the same given a dozen years ago when this quasi-support group first convened -- agitating for better education, monitoring black employment in construction, and so on. Things that paralleled what each person does for a living or out of passion and has been doing a long time. Yet the answers this time out sounded worn around the edges, weary.
Implicit in every renewal of the eternal pledge to make things better for our people was the feeling that these days, with every year that we don't gain ground, we lose it. With a big demographic change still under way in the city from black to Latino and with the narrative of post-racialism permeating everything from politics to internet memes, there is no such thing for us as standing still, something we could at least claim in the past a kind of victory. Holding steady and all that. No longer.
Maybe because of that active sense of loss, or maybe because some among us are approaching retirement age, people in the room got honest where over the years they had been steadily upbeat. Politics is failing us, they declared. Leadership is in freefall. Obama in the White House hasn't made a dent in anything; if anything, things have gotten worse, with the great recession driving blacks further back behind the starting line and nothing really pushing us forward. Resilience has always been our greatest asset, but at some point it needs to be matched by some visible success so that it can rest and replenish itself...meanwhile, our resilience is losing resilience. No one countered the sentiments, though the youngest attendee in the room offered as his source of hope a new grassroots trend in L.A. hip-hop that had to with marketing strategies and pop-up performances. I can't say I grasped it very well, nor did too many others in the room, especially the pending retirees. But they nodded enthusiastically anyway. The role of hip-hop in black progress, especially the hard gangsta variety born and bred in L.A., has always been more wished-for than real, in several ways an impediment, according to its many critics. But that's another gathering..
I mentioned in a post or so ago that my neighbors in Inglewood moved after selling their house in very short order. The big unspoken question on the block was, who would move in? Black or Latino? Nobody assumed there were any other possibilities. When a black family pulled up a moving van, I could almost hear the collective sigh of relief. This is complicated. Truly there is no anti-Latino sentiment amongst my neighbors, but there is a palpable anxiety about losing black social coherence, year by year, house by house. To a world in which the push for immigration justice has become the new civil rights narrative, this looks like so much xenophobia. It is not, or xenophobia is the very least of it. Several of my neighbors are immigrants themselves, blacks from Africa and the Caribbean; in this country they become, probably against their wishes, black Americans in many ways. They see things through our eyes. Next year and in the years after, we will all work together to be seen.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.
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